Wylde World: The Pig at Combe, Devon
Report and photography by Leanne Bracey
There’s a little place I know. It’s called The Pig at Combe and its name perfectly describes the gluttonous nature of the idea behind the hotel. In fact, the 'chain' has become so popular there are currently five across the South East, with a couple more to follow over the next few years. I’m the epitome of the perfect guest The Pig could hope for; I wallow in my room, I relax in the bar, I drink and eat far too much plus I'm happy to roll around with a full yet healthy belly.
During my stay, I couldn't help but gorge myself on delicious food coming directly from the gardens or within a 25 mile radius. It’s essentially a pub with rooms, but on a much, much grander scale. Robin Hutson, previously the owner of The Hotel Du Vin chain, launched The Pig in 2011, the first one in Brockenhurst. The idea was to find a gorgeous stately home, funk it up, introduce the farm-to-fork concept, and there you have it: a perfect foodie hideaway a stone's throw from London – ideal for busy city types who love food and want to get out of their suit and tie.
With my equally piggy friend in tow, we arrive at the charming village of Gittisham; Instagram- worthy, with its cute little thatched cottages, but in the distance, we see our destination, and we are far more concerned with getting there. Set in 3,500 acres, it’s a fairly long drive to the front door of this Elizabethan home. Wowed by its grand entrance, a scattering of people playing croquet on the lawn and others couching on outdoor loungers, determined to make the most of this summer weather we’re currently having, we swiftly park the car, enter the hotel and there we are… slap bang straight in the bar. Remember this is not a traditional hotel. The reception is small and informal… blink and you'll miss it. Who needs space for check-in when the bar is at the heart of this hotel?
The Pig at Combe has been fabulously decorated to cleverly match the grand home/modern interiors trend. Our room is up in the attic, and one of the best in the house. There are 30 rooms here (plus some cottages) but ask for the Attic if you can. Not for the faint-hearted (there are a lot of stairs, even for us 30-something young whippersnappers) but it’s a sprawling space comprising a cosy bedroom with a bath which overlooks the front of the hotel, a walk-through area which is pretty much a sitting room, and a bathroom with a great walk-in shower and double sink.
Perfect for two girls who like to create a mess. We laugh at how romantic it is, as it's perfect for couples. It's a good job we're great friends. We crack open the homemade gin left as a welcome gift and toast to a few days without men... pah who needs a strapping lad for a glorious weekend away? Not us!
Downstairs we head to The Folly, a rather fabulous semi-restored outhouse building that's home to an even more informal dining area. Its outside-in design has a charming Rapunzel-esque feel about it, like a cross between an orangery and a greenhouse in a Disney fairytale. It would make a fabulous backdrop for a wedding. Food is pizza breads cooked in the huge oven, home made cakes, light snacks and a constant supply of drinks. There are outdoor swings to bring out your inner child on, and shade is supplied by the glorious ancient oak trees. After a long drive from Kent, we had a light snack of wild garlic pizza bread sitting outside, soaking up the atmosphere before going back to the room, making more mess and sprucing ourselves up for the evening.
We chose to relax in the bar before dinner, sampling some of the homemade spirits from the botanicals provided by the gardens; this hotel rustles up a pretty good cocktail. In the winter, there’s a roaring fire; cosy and pretty toasty. There are a couple more rooms off the bar where guests can pretend they own the place, rest their feet and curl up on one of the sofas. There are plenty of board games, books and magazines dotted around, all encouraging you to embrace the piggy lifestyle. However, if it's raining and sitting around on your bum all day makes you feel a bit slobbish, there's no excuse as the hotel is equipped with bright pink umbrellas to borrow and an array of Hunter wellies to run amok in. There are, after all, many many acres of land to explore.
Furthermore, the hotel has created a surprisingly wonderful area to have a massage, right in the heart of the garden. It's called The Potting Shed and no, it's not stuffed full of pitchforks, wheelbarrows and old soil. Its interior design is quirky but totally charming and full of character. A full body massage is an absolute must. As you lie there being pummelled (in a nice way) you can hear the gentle tinkering of the gardeners in the background as the therapist uses natural, gorgeous smelling products to help the theme continue.
Dinner is a wonderful affair, as you might imagine. But it’s not stuffy, pompous or formal.… far from it. I could have even come down in my pyjamas and no one would've noticed, although of course, that would be very unprofessional of me. Even the throughly professional and friendly staff wear jeans and Converse trainers. Natural light floods the busy (even for a Sunday night) dining room. Lots of plants, framed butterflies, all things that reflect nature; it’s green, it feels overgrown – even though it isn't – and it's very well put together. I want my dining room to look like this. The 25 Mile Menu is healthy, comforting and sometimes adventurous.
I should point out that each of the menus at the four Pigs is totally different. We gorged on Hock eggs, fish cakes and lemon parsley mayo, Combe tempura mushrooms, heirloom tomatoes, home grown cured meats, Texel lamb rump and Lyme Bay hake fillet one night. Pipers Farm spiced lamb leg, hand picked white & brown crab, West country sirloin steak and the 'Ygraine' turbot was eaten on the second night. Because to appreciate the food here takes at the very least two nights. And the puddings? Well… the words 'out of this world' spring to mind. As you can probably tell, the provenance of everything on this menu is advertised and shouted about from the roof tops, and quite rightly. The gardens are really at the heart of the hotel and seem to grow every type of herb imaginable, including a wonderful chocolate mint; the gardens are the natural version of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. A million varieties of every kind of fruit and vegetable you could ever wish for and yes, they even grow their own mushrooms which is no mean feat. You're allowed to wander around the gardens whenever you like, and chances are, you'll probably catch the kitchen staff on some training course, learning about the new aubergine variety or some-such.
The great thing about The Pig at Combe is its close proximity to the sea, so my fellow piggy and I took a casual jaunt out to a place called Beer, about 10 miles away. It's a typical seaside village, very cutesy and quaint with the obligatory striped deckchair for hire, fishing boats moored up on the shingle, seagulls squawking overhead, arts and crafts shops and galleries plus a rather typical seaside hole-in-the-wall café right on the beach where we stopped for a delicious scone with clotted cream and jam. After spending far too much cash in the local shops, we headed past Lyme Regis and Charmouth Beach onto one of my favourite pubs in the UK, The Anchor Inn in Seatown. Not for the food of course (which is pretty good, I should add) but for its perfect location, situated right on the cliff, overlooking the sea. A short drive back to The Pig and all that sitting around in the car doing nothing was a reason to relax in the roll-top bath situated in the bedroom and a spot of trash TV on the Ipad. We really are like pigs in glorious mud here.
Stay at The Pig at Combe from £145 per night on a room only basis.